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EDITOR’S NOTE: The following article is excerpted from a report issued this week by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. The complete report and information about the Rural Climate Network are available online. Disclosure: The Center for Rural Strategies, which publishes the Daily Yonder, is a member of the Rural Climate Network.
Rural America has long produced much of the nation’s energy. However, a majority of the nation’s energy is consumed in urban areas, where most of the nation’s people and infrastructure are located. This gap between energy production and consumption means that energy policy has very different implications for rural and urban communities.
These differences are one reason why the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan [which seeks to lower carbon emission from existing power plants] is garnering vastly different receptions in different regions. The flexibility of the Clean Power Plan [which allows states to create their own implementation plans] creates an opportunity to impact rural communities positively by setting up a clean energy economy that emphasizes local ownership and economic development. For this opportunity to be realized, the [state plans] will need to integrate feedback from rural communities. Securing an energy future that is not only less polluting but also benefits all of our nation’s communities will depend heavily on what happens in rural America. . . .
The rural landscape is comprised of forests, farms and rangelands that can capture carbon when managed appropriately; land and resources for wind, solar and other renewable installations; and most importantly, people and ingenuity to implement the transition to a low carbon economy. All communities, rural and urban, will benefit from supporting rural people and landscapes in the transition to clean energy.
Creating Jobs in Rural Communities
The Clean Power Plan is expected to create a net increase of stable, long-term jobs. Despite an overall increase in jobs, some communities will experience more job losses than others. This is especially true for towns with a coal-fired power plant or those that are otherwise economically dependent on fossil fuel. [This] is a call to provide as much job retraining and financial support as possible for the communities most affected by the transition.
One potential avenue for job creation in targeted rural communities is the Clean Energy Incentive Plan (CEIP), an optional matching fund program in the Clean Power Plan that grants states credit for early action on renewables installations and energy efficiency projects. The credits that states earn through the CEIP can be sold to affected energy generators (such as power plants), who may use them to comply with the Clean Power Plan.
The two types of projects eligible for CEIP credit are wind and solar projects done anywhere, or energy efficiency projects done in low income communities. … Not every rural community will qualify as low income, but those that do, and especially those directly impacted by coal-fired power plant closings or capacity reductions, should be considered as prime candidates for energy efficiency projects.
The communities chosen for the renewables and energy efficiency projects through the CEIP will need people to carry out the projects, and displaced workers can receive the subsidized training necessary to perform those jobs. The Clean Power Plan itself does not contain mechanisms to provide such training, but support outside the Clean Power Plan exists to assist displaced workers. One such funding source is the POWER+ Plan, which was part of the president’s proposed 2016 budget. Although the full POWER+ Plan is not included in the final budget passed by Congress, parts of it are included. One of these parts is a $90 million pilot project for economic development on reclaimed mines. This funding will be used over a one year time period, but if this pilot project goes well, it will lay the foundation for further funding of projects on a larger scale. [NOTE: A proposal to release an additional $1 billion for abandoned mine reclamation is under consideration.] The budget also provides $50 million to the Appalachian Regional Commission and $15 million to the Economic Development Administration for projects proposed by the POWER+ Plan, which focus on economic development and workforce retraining in coal communities.
More assistance for displaced workers and communities with extraction-based economies is greatly needed, and some states are taking the lead. Climate change and energy have become polarized topics, with one side often pushing for clean energy at all costs and the other side holding tight to fossil fuels as an economic lifeline. In truth, a clean energy transition can benefit everyone, but proper supports must be implemented to assist the communities that will experience the most disruption. Aside from additional federal support, cities and states must build their own additional assistance programs for displaced workers and heavily impacted communities, both through financial supports and job retraining programs.
As the country and the world transition to a clean energy economy, rural realities and challenges must be recognized in order to ensure equitable distribution of costs and benefits across geographies. Rural communities are often viewed as opposing climate policy, but many rural groups and leaders across the country are taking on climate challenges and creating effective and localized solutions. The key is creating climate solutions that incorporate the challenges rural communities face in order to create long-term and well-paying jobs, stable and affordable energy prices and natural resource stewardship. Last year, over 20 organizations outlined policy priorities for climate change from a rural perspective, demonstrating that climate policy can sustain—and increase—the vitality of rural communities. The Rural Climate Policy Priorities are available online.
With the Clean Power Plan, there is time to shape [state implementation plans] to represent rural perspectives. Policymakers should consider these priorities in [creating their plans]:
■ Rural areas will generate much of our clean energy future, and rural input must heavily inform every state’s planning process. As an example, Minnesota is holding listening sessions in rural communities around the state.
■ States should prioritize investments in renewables and energy efficiency measures rather than replacing coal with natural gas.
■ States should notify the EPA that they will participate in the Clean Energy Incentive Program as an effective mechanism to keep energy prices affordable for all consumers and to weatherize much of the aging rural building stock.
■ The definition of “low income communities” used in the CEIP must include the rural communities that are impacted by power plant closings or capacity reductions.
■ States should create their own assistance programs for workers and communities most directly impacted by the transition to clean energy, including financial support and job retraining.
Climate change will continue to have a devastating impact on rural people, resources, and economies as long as it continues to worsen. The Clean Power Plan takes a step towards slowing climate change. The promises of the Clean Power Plan – cleaner air, more jobs, and stable and affordable energy —cannot be reached without meaningfully including rural communities.
Tara Ritter works for the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy on rural climate-change adaptation and promoting climate-friendly agricultural practices.